Top Things to Consider When Building a Website
If you’re seriously considering putting an existing business up on the web for the first time or thinking about having a website for your brand new business, there are a lot of factors to think about, and all of these “10 best ways” articles throw out terminology you may have never even heard of, or have no idea how to apply.
So here are some practical tips for small business websites.
What are you trying to achieve?
The first question and most obvious one is what are you trying to achieve? You may have a definite goal for your business and excellent business plan written up, but have you thought exactly how you wish to present your website? You may think you already know, but here are just a few questions for you.
Do you know exactly which set of pages you would want to create?
Do you have a colour scheme in mind?
Do you know which Calls To Action you would want?
Do you have information like a privacy statement, FAQ, contact us, about page all written up?
The answer might often be “no”. There is a vague idea, but a lot of these tends to be drawn out and discussed during meetings with a web agency or individual developer. Some of them are being done during the course of development as the ideas flow.
These questions may seem unimportant, with the expectation that you will figure them out, but that brings us to our next topic…
Budget and Purpose
The next thing to be wary of is budget. People who are not developers or are not familiar with the industry often don’t know how long things can take to do. If you want that full page shining website feel, animations across the board with a mini-game on the front page, as opposed to a minimalistic but elegant site design that gets the message across, you really might want to think again.
“Make a statement with your site, your site should be a landmark on the web, not a crossroads with a thousand baffling arrows pointing in multiple directions.”
A budget can be as important as who you decide to work with. Some people who are just starting out, with a minimal budget, makes working with an individual developer unfeasible. They may do better to simply set up a store on Amazon or Etsy. Those with a little more room might be better suited to setting up a WordPress subscription for businesses and enabling the commerce module and adopting a ready-made template through them, or even creating a site on Squarespace or Wix… seriously, I said Wix!
One of the main companions to budget should be the purpose. Why would you consider setting up a brand new site on Magento when you have no desire to ever sell products online or even catalogue them? Why would you consider a WordPress site when you’re not producing regular content? Why are you setting up a Wix site when you have a huge amount of products to catalogue with some intricate custom work needed?
The purpose should tie into your budget.
Pay attention to the word “small” in small business, there’s no shame in starting small when it comes to your website. Keep things simple, elegant and to the point. Make a statement with your site; your site should be a landmark on the web, not a crossroads with a thousand baffling arrows pointing in multiple directions.
Respect your website
The problem with technology is not the technology itself, but the rapid pace in which we adopt the next best thing; the latest model. The phone or tablet we bought four years ago could fast be nearing the end of its life in terms of updates, warranty and battery life.
While platforms do need to be updated along with security patches, you should view your website as you would any physical location.
You would pay rent for a brick and mortar store, you would renovate it if necessary and have the maintenance done to demonstrate your commitment to the business and professionalism right?
The same goes for an online business, especially if that is your primary spot. Your brick and mortar store may be open to everyone in your town and those passing through, but your site is viewable by the world, don’t skimp out on hosting fees or extra work that might have an impact.
Your site is essentially your storefront, your billboard, your salesman and whatever else you want it to be. Understand its potential and show it some love.
Don’t overthink it
Tying back into your budget and purpose, don’t overthink what it is you want to do.
A simple site that is well designed and developed can do wonders, allowing you to focus some more of your resources on things like marketing and lead generation.
Every business is in competition, therefore it is only natural to have high expectations and aspirations, but those can come later. If you haven’t even reached the decision of what content you are going to have on the site, the layout and list of pages you’re going to use, you would be wise to get this out of the way first.
Incremental changes are key, they allow you to analyze the changing landscape and interests of your client base, keep tabs on your resources and minimize potential issues.
Marketing and lead tracking
Reading up on some SEO tips and strategies, if you haven’t already, would really be beneficial and can open up an imaginative vista of potential for you. Backlink would be a perfect place to start as they’re often putting out excellent marketing and SEO content and tips, you can check out their site here.
Something as simple as setting up a Google Adwords and Analytics account will give you insight into the people visiting and leaving your site, and using a tool like hotjar will allow you to see what your customers are seeing.
Who and what to use?
Let’s return to your budget and your purpose, and list out some of the possible scenarios and ways you might go about setting up your small business website, including some of the pros and cons of each.
If you’re a business who is looking to upload a few images to a portfolio, with a contact email form, an about page and have minimal contact with a developer, or avoid the relationship of a digital agency, you really might do well to try out something like Wix or Squarespace or even Shopify or a WordPress subscription.
Why would I recommend these options?
Well for some small businesses, the ability to jump onto a free trial of a site and begin to drag and drop components until you have something resembling what you might have visualized yourself can be quite empowering.
You would keep your budget to the minimum, you could do things your way. You could install apps yourself with the appropriate subscription plan, you could set up email, and with a bit of research even learn how to point your own domain to it.
As far as the theme goes, you would be able to choose from a wide selection and customize it to a degree. In fact, you would also get a responsive version with what you’re setting up, which is a huge plus.
Sounds good right?
Why wouldn’t I recommend these options?
While these options are great for people looking to build generic sites; a simple showcase, storefront or statement, eventually you may run into scalability issues, especially if you’re looking to distinguish yourselves from the competition, or if you want to tie specific business protocol to your website.
When you use a cookie cutter solution like this, you’re usually locked out of the database, out of the core code running on the back end and if you ever run into issues, you’ll need to contact the support over at one of these platforms, which may or may not be to your liking.
You wouldn’t be able to implement your own load balancing options, or your own cache solutions, or your own complex search solutions if you needed them. The technology would be decided for you.
In the unlikely event that the platform you choose to use, decided to no longer operate you could lose your website. Or if one of these platforms delivered a huge update breaking the compatibility of your own site with apps or modules you have installed, you wouldn’t have the control over the consequences until after the fact, by then you may need a professional to assist.
So while I would absolutely recommend one of these solutions for someone starting out with a minimal budget who just wants to get something up and running, this could be a match made in heaven. Even for small web pieces, these options can be the perfect solution for getting things done quickly.
However for those who have been in the game for quite a while, they may find themselves outgrowing the platform, but by this time they would already have a firm idea of what it is they are looking for and to achieve in the long run.
They would be able to present that existing site to a developer or digital agency, who would be able to provide something with a little more customizable, which would be able to grow with the business over time.
Another excellent thing about going custom, is if anytime you wanted to sever ties with an existing developer due to disagreements or perhaps maybe due to reasons requiring you to move elsewhere, you would be able to present your code, your data and the history of the project to a new set of developers who would know what to do with it. When you use a cookie cutter solution, your options in this area are limited; you’re locked into that hosting provider’s way of doing things.
One of the things about working with a developer or an agency is that when you go through one of these channels, you already get the years of experience that come with them.
You may be putting in hours in the evenings researching SEO when you could be working on your business.
Sure this is excellent, and while I would encourage self-reliance, what is it you’re trying to do with your business? Are you learning to become a developer and take your business in that direction, or are you trying to do generate more leads on your website and increase your profit?
Sometimes it’s good to delegate all of that stuff to professionals so you can focus on what you do best.
Conferences and conventions
One piece of advice I would give is to learn about the platforms you could potentially use. Write down a short list of the ones you think are the most interesting and look for conventions or conferences in your area.
Getting out and networking with people using those systems or agencies or developers are usually the best way to figure out a technical direction.
The power of social media
A great example I have of the power of social media, is several years ago I’d decided to make a little iPhone game, it featured a chihuahua being chased by its owner with grabbing hands following behind it, and you had to catch pieces of flying chicken and avoid obstacles in your way.
During this time period, I’d told my wife to hop onto some social media websites and start hyping this thing up. Over the course of a few weeks, she’d signed up to Facebook, Instagram, Weibo and other social media platforms. She took photos of my mothers chihuahua, dressed her up, even put on a little birthday party for this dog.
In a matter of a few short weeks, she had amassed a huge following, just by spam adding people, leaving comments on people’s pages, liking pictures across multiple different platforms.
If you’re looking for that little extra edge, I’d advise giving this a try also!
Kevin Hu, Chief Technical Officer
Old Moon Digital